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Monthly Archives: February 2015

I wanted to think a little bit about Nathan’s baller move at the end of Wednesday’s lecture, when he bought something in front of all of us and asked, “what did I just touch?”  Honestly, I don’t have a very good answer to that question.  But on a tangent: I was taken with just how quick and easy it truly is to buy something on Amazon.  It took about 20 seconds.  To me this ties in with the whole “media is the message” concept, the idea that the mode of transmission changes us.  If we apply that idea not just to art / media / advertising, but also to user-driven choices like shopping, I think it still holds.  The fact that you can buy something so smoothly and easily on Amazon can change the way you shop and spend money.  Everyone knows this, most of all Amazon, which is wholly committed to making its shopping experience as streamlined and convenient as possible.  In Amazon’s ideal world, you could buy something on Amazon and have it in your hands quicker than if you actually went out to a physical store—oh, wait:  If the TV killed the public square and moved it indoors, in a bastardization of McQuire’s point, maybe the internet is now doing the same to the public market (even as it kills the TV).  There’s probably something about navigable space in there—the replacement of physical shops, markets, malls, with online markets and the resultant change in consumer behavior—but I’m not sure how to articulate it.  Anyway, I’m interested in how our consumption habits change as companies like Amazon slowly chip away at the obstacles of online shopping.  This isn’t a great blog post but I’m super late for my next thing so I have to run.

I enjoyed how we left off wednesday’s lecture with an amazon order. Nathan’s hands physically only touched his keyboard, yet they set in motion a series of events that will not only move objects but will also move bodies in space. Because of this simple motion, a living person will handle the product Nathan ordered – packaging it, sorting it, and delivering it until it lands in Nathan’s hands. Though we may laugh at the Bell System telephone commercial, with it’s corny (creepy?) slogan, “Reach out and touch someone,” it reflects Thrift’s notion of collapsing space through the touch of technology. The Medium is the Massage argues that the form is more important than content. I certainly agree that medium is embedded in message, but to claim form is more important than content practically denies the need for content. Though form affects how we touch, I think content effects the reactionary touch, or action. Thrift states that “entities that are able to be touched will correspondingly expand; all manner of entities will be produced with an expanded sensory range” in his second point on how touch will change in the qualculative world. I believe it is the message, not the medium that most highly effects how the recipient physically reacts to a technological “touch.” Evident in your amazon order, the content of the message produces the physical reaction of amazon employees. Similarly, message effected reactions in LambdaMOO. These notions of body were brought up last week in A Rape in Cyberspace, and I think these ideas persist in the context of windows, screens and space.  It’s clear to me that body can no longer be defined as the solid “meat puppet” we identify with as our container, as Thrift recognizes. “[The] body schema extends well beyond the body’s apparent physical limit, taking in items like the body’s shadow as explicit means of gaging where the body is and how it is moving in relation to other objects.”

This week I found Scott McQuire’s piece “The Politics of Public Space in the Media City” particularly interesting. I was partial to his concise execution of a broad historical overview of the urban space and the shifting limits of the public domain. One part of the piece that I thought worth expounding was his brief reference to Holzer’s work on the issues at stake with large screens in public spaces. He asserts that Holzer’s, “work suggest that a key issue for large screens in public space remains the traditional issue for all media forms: control, access, filtering of content, etc.”

This remark reminded me of the discourse surrounding memory culture that arose with great intensity in Germany during the 1990s in their many attempts to erect commemorative sites to the victims of the Holocaust. James Young, Art Historian and Judaic Studies professor, suggests that the traditional monumental form was rejected by many commemorative site initiatives, given the propensity of the monumental form toward authoritarian gestures (i.e. to assert, by way of the form’s material fixity, a sort of rigid historiographical account of the past, tainted by the biases of a political power that commissions the work and has quite a bit at stake in formulating, and perhaps fabricating, a narrative of shared national/cultural heritage). These stolid attempts to render the monument’s significance fixed (particularly pertinent in monument built following WWI all across Europe and the US) are, though, always undermined by the tendency for history to exist in a malleable state, subject to the transient socio-political conditions of the present. That is to say, the sculpted stone figures were not able to adapt and react to the shifting socio-politic-cultural frame through which the conditions of the present rendered their fixity purely superficial—purely material—purely a matter of lexis and not a matter of logos.

What I find interesting about McQuire’s discussion of the large screen in a public space is that it seems to be the authoritarian monument’s updated form. That is to say, the physical materiality of the screen serves only as platform for content, which is fluid, transient, and adaptable to the conditions of the present in which it exists. The big screen allows those in control (of its broadcast) to respond to the dynamism of the present condition through a new dynamic materiality. In this sense there is a certain danger involved in the advent of these new medias– an issue which McQuire attends to in a cursory manner. With that said, I agree with the apparent optimism with which his essay concludes. That is to say, in a very broad sense, I don’t view this new technology as a singular instrument of control or liberation, but rather as a novel form (although not novel anymore really), which can be employed toward various ends.

New media has the power to crunch the windows of time and space, but in this crunch there is distortion. Grindr and Tinder, as well as Facebook and other social media, collapse space between peoples’ lives and bring them seemingly closer together. Similarly, technologies such as GoToMeeting and Skype are allowing for easier and quicker intrapersonal connection. The list goes on and on. But it seems to me that the more power new media has to bring us together, the more it removes some genuine feeling of living whatever interaction it is enabling. One may look at the most magnificent landscape on a computer screen, or talk to a loved one, or do any number of activities, but none of these events are experienced in full. Maybe this is due to a saturation of visual stimulation and depravation of the other senses. But whatever the reason, life through a screen is not living.

This has disturbing applications in drone warfare, as Derek Gregory points out. I think that the most worrisome is the equation he makes to a sort of “God hurling lightning bolts from above” image. With shortening kill chains, drone operators are given incredible power. Historically and factually, this exact type of power has led people to exact terrible punishment on those deemed weaker in whatever setting. We need look no further than Abu Ghraib prison to see how our very own soldiers can be driven to grossly abuse their power. Now, with the power of a screen-controlled death robot, drone operators are automatically removed from most of the major aspects of warfare. And yet they are closer than ever before.

Click on the top of the screen, jump forward to the next still image. Click on the sides, shift perspective to perspective with a slide transition. Myst built its world on a series of nodes and perspectives, a series of facades. This seems to fit with the new description of space as relative and flowing, and based on relative coordinates: space is a collection of objects, journeys are instantaneous hops from object to object, and distance the number of hops required, the time delayed. What does this shift in how we view space from an absolute, complete space to one characterized by distinct, disjoint objects?

For one, and obviously, there is a deemphasis of the space in between. Because space no longer is understood as continuous, there is less mystery in the space we inhabit — the notion of the infinitesimal is not useful, not discrete, not computable, and thus is removed from our psyche. While we know the space in between one object in the next is completely brimming with activity and substance, it becomes less important than the relationship between source and destination. For all Myst knows, there is no mist, or air — just libraries, shipwrecks, and the nodes en route.

Next, because the space in between collapses, so too does the notion of continuous distance, and with it, delay. Information is expected to arrive near immediately, or incredibly quickly, so that speed and delay become abnormalities; surely not an idea worthy of consideration in normal circumstances. While distance could be described before in terms of time and speed, it now must be described statically, although space is characterized by the motion of bodies within these addresses.

Playing Myst in lab this week, I found myself thinking about how groundbreaking it must have been when it was first released. As someone who has grown up with increasingly complex and beautifully rendered video games, I was surprised by the graphics that I experienced in Myst. Although they weren’t particularly refined in comparison to current games, I had expected a game released before I was born to be much less smooth. Granted, Myst has no people in it (apart from the video messages) and movement is one step, or screen, at a time, meaning that intricate facial features or seamless navigation was not necessary as it is now. However, this did not lessen the experience for me and I tried to put myself in the context of people who experienced this when it was first released in 1993. In this way, I felt all the more amazed by the game and enjoyed playing the game quite a bit.

Additionally, Manovich’s discussion of Navigable Space in relation to Myst made me consider the importance of movement and motion in regards to computers, games, and digital media as a whole. The creation of the world in Myst, in comparison to earlier text-based games, is, in a way, a creation of a false space in which the player can move and interact. As a result, it becomes something of a second world in which the player can do what they want, within the confines of the game’s world, rules, and programming. This creation of a separate space allows a sense of escapism and separates the player from the world around them, creating a model for the current video games which seek to create an immersive experience for the gamer.

I am interested in the intersection of Gregory’s analysis of drone warfare and Nathan’s lecture on the extensions of man. Specifically, I was intrigued by Nathan’s question, “What did I just touch?” in the context of UAV targeted assassination. Whereas the implications of purchasing a book on Amazon may be less clear, drone strikes epitomize (albeit a dark extreme) mechanically enhanced tactility; rather than touch, they kill. Drones facilitate digital murder in a startling interaction between the hyper real (pilots operate through mediated images displayed on a screen) and the real (human beings in the war zone).

The network of instantaneous communication that comprises the “kill-chain” also enables a disturbing compression of time-space. A morphological analogy is compelling here: “eyes” and “fists” represented by UAVs patrol the zone of interest. These extrema are connected via “neurons”, the satellite signals/data, to the “brain”, command centers and pilot terminals in the U.S., which doles out commands. This digitized body extends across continents, collapses distance and facilitates rapid reactions. Indeed, the war machine assumes a God-like quality, represented by the disturbing names given to the various UAVs and their component parts: predator, reaper, hellfire missiles, and gorgon stare.

Currently, the optimized United States kill-chain operates in less than two minutes. I am interested in the implications of a perfected kill-chain, the near instantaneous identification and destruction of targets. Gregory mentions in the article that already the Air Force “envisages it [kill-chain] being compressed to seconds by 2025.” At this point, would it be less of a chain and more of an omnipresent consciousness? It would seem no longer God-like; just simply God, one built on Earth and whose body is data.

I grew up playing Myst with my dad and my twin sister, and it was pretty drastically different from any other video game I played as a kid. The most dramatic difference I felt was the loneliness and individuality of the main character. This is due in part to the opening scene of falling through the Myst and landing somewhere completely along without other inhabitants, but also to the general atmosphere of the island, colors, and environment as a whole. Additionally, unlike many games I played where worlds overlapped in characteristics and used characters and objects as “fillers” so to speak, Myst seemed to have a purpose to every single addition to the game. The worlds were incredibly elaborate and planned out, so that everything placed in them was a new piece of information to help you move through the game. I remember reaching the 2nd and 3rd worlds of Myst eventually, but it took a lot of teamwork between my sister and I to read the clues and continue on–additionally a lot of frustration when we couldn’t move forward (and maybe a few hints from my dad).

I’m curious as to how this lonely, mysterious (no pun intended) navigable space reflects the new worlds that cyberspace has opened up for new media and new generations. How will worlds like the one in Myst start to play a role in reality? Certainly, when one is playing the game of Myst, it is immersive enough to almost replace reality briefly. What does this mean for the potential impact of the battle between cyberspace (hyperreal) and reality (real)?

I think that Derek Gregory’s example of drones is particularly relevant because it shows the implications of the abolition of space enabled by virtual technology. In this case, it directly threatens people’s lives. According to me, it differs from discourses that are sometimes based on common social imaginary about technology, that could be qualified as technophilia (empowerment, liberty, “extension of men”, collective intelligence) or technophobia (tracking, surveillance, capture).

Also, Thrift’s article leaves me with a feeling of unease about the future of digital mobile devices. This idea of a qualculative background scared me: how could we not be alienated if we have no idea of what is actually going on when we use technologies?

This week’s readings tackled notions of ‘space’ in a qualculative environment. The question of how we navigate these mediated spaces is thus ‘psychogeographical’, to use McQuire’s terminology. On the subject of mobility in a contingent, relational space, McQuire states that it ‘is not easily unified since every subject belongs to multiple matrices or networks that overlap and interpenetrate’. As the flux of ideas and people continues to penetrate geographical borders and states, globalising forces work to undermine the modes of dictating difference premised on territoriality. This reminded of Fredric Jameson’s “Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (from MCM110), discusses postmodernity as an economic shift where the the individual becomes ‘dislocated’ in what is termed as ‘postmodern hyperspace’. Jameson writes, ‘…we do not yet possesses the perceptual equipment to match this new hyperspace. Therein lies the source of our fragmentation as individuals’. What implications then, does this new spatial order have when it comes to interrelations between worldwide communities and migration? Does this engender a further techno-social inequality that can be orientalising or othering?